Selective rights, illegal wars


During his talk sponsored by the New American Foundation in March 2008, author Parag Khanna addressed the rising challenges facing the United States’ global hegemony. According to Khanna, China and the European Union are the new contenders in the global “geopolitical marketplace.”

Aside from Khanna’s insight, one statement particularly puzzled me greatly: “Why am I talking about Europe, China, and the United States? What about Russia, what about India, what about Islam … what about all those other powers?”

Initially I thought it must have been an error. The speaker must surely realize that Islam is a religion, not a political entity with a definable “geopolitical marketplace.” But it was not an error, or more accurately, it was a deliberate error.

Khanna went on to explain that Islam doesn’t have the “kind of coherence” that allows it to spread its power and influence — unlike the dominant other powers that he highlighted. According to that odd logic, Islam and Brazil were discussed in a similar context.

This sort of twisted reasoning has flourished as an academic discipline-turned-industry since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sure, it existed prior to this date, but its experts and their then few think tanks were largely placed within a decidedly pro-Israel, Zionist and rightwing political orthodoxy. In the last decade or so, the relatively specialized business multiplied and became mainstream wisdom.

Its numerous “experts” — who are more like intellectual purveyors — became well-known faces in American news networks. Their once “politically incorrect” depiction of Arabs, Muslims and the non-Western world at large, became acceptable views which were then translated into actual policies used for invading countries, torturing prisoners and flushing Holy Qurans down toilets.

It is impracticable to rationally argue with those who are essentially irrational. Many of us have tirelessly tried to wrangle with those who want to “kill all Muslims” whenever someone claiming to be a Muslim is accused of carrying out or planning to carry out an attack somewhere in the world.

The “debate” rages on, not because of the power of its logic, but because of the heavy price of blood and gore that continues to be paid due to the deliberate misinformation, utter lies and the subtle intellectual racism that defines much of the American media and academic discourses.

Numbers are of no relevance in such discussions because absurd media pundits are not swayed by facts. In the U.S., there have been nearly 900,000 gun fatalities in the last 30 years or so (1980 to present) compared to around 3,400 terrorism-related fatalities in the last 40 years or so (1970 to present). These figures include victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. This unsurprising fact has been referenced by MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and raises critical points.

If the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen (plus numerous other lesser acts of violence committed in the name of “fighting terror”) were indeed compelled by the preciousness of American lives, then the least U.S. Congress should do is tighten gun control laws in their own country. But respected members of Congress are fighting the good fight to keep things as they are, in the name of protecting the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution — “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” But rights are infringed at will whenever it suits U.S. foreign policymakers and their intellectual peddlers.

Despite the fact that the war on Iraq was illegal and that torture of prisoners is a loud violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, America’s war rages on and the Guantanamo gulag is thriving.

One cannot help but think that the U.S.’s legal, political and even moral blind spots must always somehow involve Muslims.

But of course it’s more complicated than this. Muslims are not targeted because they are Muslim. Yes, of course, religion and skin color are important layers in the massive “crusade” — a George W. Bush term, not mine — in America’s so-called war on terror. “Hating Islam” is also a convenient pretense to achieve foreign policy objectives that are centered on imperial domination, thus natural resources.

Neither American foreign policymakers, nor their media cheerleaders who hardly take a day off from smearing everything Muslim, are interested in Islamic theology, history, spirituality or values, which are meant to espouse uprightness in the individual and righteousness in the collective. But there is an army of dishonest people who would rather comb through every shred of Islamic text to highlight passages out of context just to prove that Islam is fundamentally flawed, teaches hate or “anti-Semitism” and that it celebrates a supposed “culture of death.”

These very men and women would have done the same, as their predecessors have, to demonize any other culture, religion or community that sat on large deposits of oil or dare exist in an area of strategic importance to the U.S. or within an alarming proximity to Israel.

The anti-Islam tirade received another boost following the Boston Marathon Bombings of April 15, which were blamed on two American-Chechen brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The anti-Muslim circus was back in town, as political jugglers, along with media acrobats seemed to reach the ever predicable conclusion: hate all Muslims and do whatever possible to exploit any tragedy to further U.S. hegemonic interest in the Middle East.

Eric Rush, a Fox News pundit, summed up that sentiment when he called for the killing of all Muslims following the bombings and then later claimed that his tweets were meant to be sarcastic.

Ann Coulter called for women to be put in jail for “wearing a Hijab.”

This type of hate-mongering is of course not random, no matter how palpably ‘crazy’ the people behind it are. It is an essential component of ensuring that a largely uninformed public is always on board whenever the U.S. is ready for yet another military adventure involving Muslim countries.

All of this rhetoric must also be juxtaposed with what is happening in the Middle East. There, yet a new war is brewing, one that is largely aimed at ensuring that the current chaos under way in the so-called Arab Spring countries will yield favorable results from the viewpoints of Israel, America and the West.

The new push for military intervention started with Israeli allegations that the Syrian regime is using chemical weapons against opposition forces, followed by British-French allegations, and finally, despite brief hesitation, concurred by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Over 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the Syrian civil war. In the last two years it has become a hub for unprecedented regional and international rivalry, a Great Game of sorts. The U.S., Israel and their allies have watched as Syria, once considered a threat to Israeli security, descended into inconceivable brutality involving the Syrian army, various factions and bands of fighters from near and far. It was a matter of time before the U.S. and its allies made their move to seal Syria’s fate and to ensure quiet at the Israeli northeastern frontier.

For that to happen, Muslims must be hated and dehumanized in ways that would make war a tad less ugly and future violence, in some odd way, “justifiable.” The official purpose of Hagel’s recent visit to Israel was to finalize U.S. arms sales to Israel and other countries, which total about $10 billion. Knowing how such weapons have been used in the past, one can hardly appreciate the “sarcasm” in Eric Rush’s tweet of wanting to “kill them all.”

A look at the history of U.S. foreign policy showes that violent words often translate into violent action, and here lies the real danger of the supposedly crazy bunch who equate Islam to Brazil and wish to incarcerate women for wearing scarves.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is “My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press).

  • Sadly this argument does not sway people who have any respect for the context in which events occur. Is it not important how people come to be victims of a certain action; and not simply that they were victims?

  • phu

    There are ignorant people everywhere. The problem is that we have a whole lot of violent, ignorant Americans, and there are a whole lot of violent, ignorant people who hate Americans (and so often “claim to be” Muslim). Those two groups are obviously going to have a problem with each other.

    That the former group also happens to be largely in power in the US doesn’t make Americans evil or stupid. In fact, it makes us just like the rest of the world: We are a nation of people who, regardless of how many of us are rational, are led by idiots. Abe, Kim, Obama… these people are elected/chosen/ushered in because they are rational or good. They gain and/or hold their positions because they spout the right rhetoric at the right time.

    The world is a hateful place. THAT is the problem. If you want to solve this, don’t walk around yelling about how awful the US is. Work on ways to foster understanding and cooperation and stop with the vitriol.

    Finally: Most Americans are smart enough to know that Ann Coulter is an insane hatemonger, just like most Muslims are smart enough to know that terrorism is pointless and stupid.

  • Tx X

    Ridiculous! How can you compare deaths from domestic crime, gun-related or not, to a bunch of foreigners ramming airliners into the country’s skyscrapers and defense headquarters!? 9/11 was a declaration of war that cost far more lives than Pearl Harbor…and we all know what happened after Pearl Harbor. Blood must be repaid in blood in multitude; surely the Koran taught you that much?

    The author is defending radical, violent Islam as if it’s a harmless offshoot of a peaceful religion. The Arabs haven’t had a good day since the Mongols sacked Baghdad and they’ve been a bitter, violent bunch since. I sure wish there was another character like Hulagu to come and put these people in their place.

    • Stephen Verry

      The author is not defending “radical violent Islam.” Read it again. The author is merely pointing out that the muddled thinking one comes across all too often in Western discourse on matters Islamic these days is the real source of many of West’s current difficulties. Societies that cannot maintain a rational collective thought world will eventually sink under the weight of their own ignorance. What is sorely needed at this point are people willing to listen to each other. And, if they disagree, to at least disagree in a civil way.

  • JR

    Mr. Baroud: You conveniently ignore the violent imposition of Islamic law on unwilling Malians, while accusing the west of not protecting Muslims in Burma. Please Muslims….solve your problems yourselves sometimes.

    Selective rights, illegal wars is an interesting and catchy title, but let’s talk about that. Frankly, I don’t know a legal war, do you? A country, a society, creates rights, and it can take them away. In the U.S., we enjoy many rights and yet our history is filled with examples of those rights being abused, and of violence. That seems to be human nature at work. But we are lucky to live in an open society, constructed by a long battle for freedom, for more rights, and against religious persecution, for religious freedom and for many other freedoms. Unfortunately, most of us see Islam now as an intolerant, restrictive religion, which does not respect nor acknowledge the rights and openness which have been obtained in the U.S. To achieve a secular society based on human rights has been violent and difficult, but it is key to the wealth and success enjoyed in many Western countries. This we know from history.

    In the Islamic countries I see no such thing. I don’t wish for any country to be Islamic, or under the control of any religion whatsoever. I know in my heart that that means a lack of human rights, and it means corruption and abuse by whatever religious authority exists, and it means that people are brainwashed in formal religious education into crazy beliefs. I believe in being a free thinker and I believe in peoples’ right to follow their will, make their rules personally for themselves and democratically as a society. It is not perfect, but any madras that’s selling perfect is selling lies.

    It is painfully clear to Americans that we have a problem with gun violence, Mr Baroud. It has nothing to do with terrorism coming from people motivated BY ISLAM. Your linking of these is idiotic. If numbers are irrelevant then why did you mention them. How many little Muslim girls were sold into teenage marriages, and how many honor killings were committed in the name of Islam over 30 years? These are numbers I’d like to know. We are trying now to deal with our gun problem, and we are doing it democratically, as best we can, in an imperfect system. I find it a decent way to deal with the problem, and I’d like to know how the Arab countries are doing in solving their own social problems? And I will reject any insinuation that they are somehow due to western interference. Your Islamic societies will be much better off when they realize the abuse, lies and harm done by religious zealots teaching war from a mosque or in a madras and fight THEM.

    About interventionism: You would like the “West” to intervene on behalf of Muslims in Burma. But when the U.S. or the West intervenes in Mali, or in Afghanistan, is it wrong? And you would like someone to stop the brutality in Syria? But not the West? Why not? You can’t protest intervention here and not protest it elsewhere, on your own terms. Why doesn’t the Arab League do something about Syria and about Burma and about Mali? Because the Islamic and/or Arab countries are incapable, corrupt, tribal.

    I no longer want Muslims to immigrate to the U.S. because I believe that the religion’s effect is to direct toward fighting democracy, fighting secularism, fighting our hard won freedoms that have led to open societies. And, in what you write, I see nothing to dissuade me from that view.

    You insinuate that the U.S. is to blame for so much of what is wrong in the Islamic World and I don’t buy that for one second. Your last paragraph almost says that the U.S. is prone to violence of the sort witnessed from Germany in WWII. Islam is not a country but it does represent a problem for the world. The U.S. are on the side of peace and progress, however hard this may be sometimes to believe. This same spirit is undetectable for me in Islamic discourse of today.

    Finally…if Islam is offended by the free speech and freedom of action contained in cartoons of Muhammad and the flushing of Holy Qurans down the toilet, I have to say grow up. Your religion needs to be more mature than that. Anything beyond reproach, immune from criticism, is bound to fail, is bound to devolve into falseness. If this is the depth of the religion, that it cannot tolerate rebuke or deviation, then how can one respect it? Freedom also means the freedom to be irreverent. If Islam cannot accept that, then there is indeed a chasm and a gulf that cannot be crossed. And if it cannot accept such criticism…it is a direct attack at the core of modern Western philosophy and government. And that we will not tolerate.

    • Stephen Verry

      And yet you seemingly fail to detect the chest thumping tribesman at the heart of your thinking. Democracy equals plurality of thought and opinion and a mature acceptance of such, as long as the common good is upheld by all parties. The author of this article yearns for that common good, peaceful coexistence and an acknowledgment of our common humanity.

      • JR

        it is my opinion that democracies cannot be expected to tolerate those who would use them to destroy them….call it tribal if you wish..but when I used that word, I meant it literally, because it is a fact that too often what we see in many Islamic countries is tribal warfare, or rule by tribe. A mature democracy should realize that plurality has its limits and that there are things that we must not accept. You have a sugary understanding of his writing. He claims that the U.S. and Israel are waiting until Muslims are dehumanized and hated enough to justify intervention and war. I see no yearning for common good. I see wanting the intervention when it suits him, and then complaining when it fails. It fails because the locals are not interested in….democracy, peace, plurality and coexistence and a big part of the inability for the locals to fixate on those high ideals is….Islam.

  • Susan N.

    Excellent piece Mr. Baroud, a sober analysis alas it would go over some American’s head as there are certain reluctance in America to confront the more complex historical dimensions of this hatred.